Living In Indonesia
Are you wondering whether or not life in Indonesia will suit you? Are you looking for practical information about how to get things done in Indonesia? Are moving to Indonesia soon and wondering what you need to bring? Look no further! Below you'll find all the information you need about life in Indonesia and, more specific, life around the area of Kuningan, where Royal Primary Academy is located. This guide is specifically written for new expats in Jakarta. Should you still have questions after reading this guide, contact us and we'll update this page.
The Language: Bahasa Indonesia
The official language of Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesia, although there are over 700 languages spoken throughout the country. Indonesian is written in Latin script, meaning that it is quite easy for foreigners to phonetically sound out words including names of locations, signs, and menu items. Conversational English is spoken at most malls, restaurants and cafés around the Jakarta and in tourist areas, making it fairly easy to get around. While you can perfectly get by without uttering a word of Bahasa Indonesia, the local people highly appreciate an expat who does take the effort to get to know their language and culture. Besides, Bahasa Indonesia is known to be an easy language to learn. To get you started you can try to memorize the basic phrases below. However, if you're feeling more ambitious we recommend that you download the application 'Memrise', which offers a lot of courses in Bahasa Indonesia.
The official currency of Indonesia is the Rupiah. While in Indonesia, you can have access to cash in a few basic ways:
1. When you arrive, the school will assist you in setting up a bank account at a local bank, which your salary will be paid into each month. From this bank account you can draw money. You will also receive an ATM card linked to this account.
2. You may also use your foreign ATM card. ATM machines are readily available. Be aware that you can only withdraw Rupiah using an ATM card, even a foreign ATM card. Also, the rate at an ATM machine is significantly lower than exchanging cash.
3. Exchanging money is quite easy as well. However, when exchanging money, the banks and foreign exchange companies are very particular about the quality of the bills. In order to get the best exchange rate, the bills must be meticulous.
Teachers and staff have had mixed experiences with foreign credit cards in Indonesia. Most places accept Visa and MasterCard, but some transactions may be blocked depending on the level of security of your credit card company. It would be wise to let your credit card company know that you will be moving to Indonesia and to always have a back-up plan when making purchases.
When you arrive, the school will assist you in purchasing a sim card, which is very simple and costs less than USD 10. Be sure that you have an unlocked phone that takes a sim card, however. Mobile phones run on a pay-as-you-go basis, meaning that you need to top up the credit in your phone, which is available at a variety of shops. Once you'll have your bank account set up, you can also top up through online banking.
Indonesia is the most populated Muslim country in the world. However, with regards to dress, it is much more liberal than many other Muslims nations. It is not uncommon to see women wearing shorts and sleeveless tops, which may come as a shock depending on what your preconceptions about dress in Indonesia may be.
At RPA, all teachers are required to wear a professional dress everyday to school. For men this means a shirt, tie, pants, and business shoes. For women this includes a skirt, pants and a shirt or blouse. Men and women should wear a closed shoe.
Outside of school, however, use your best judgement based on what you see others wearing and keep in mind that you are always a representative of RPA and, despite being in a large city, there is a good chance you’ll run into families from school while at the mall, grocery store or restaurants.
Sending and Receiving Mail
The mail system can be inconsistent in Indonesia, particularly internationally. Some foreigners have reported that packages are quickly and readily delivered to their apartments, while others have had packages never arrive. You should also be aware that some items may be stopped by customs and taxed. For example, a teacher ordered a pair of shoes online that were stopped by customs and taxed 100% of the cost when she picked them up. On the other hand, some packages have arrived directly to teachers apartment buildings with no customs to be paid. Courier companies such as DHL and UPS are readily available and reliable.
What To Bring
For the most part, you can find anything and everything that you may need in Jakarta and most imported goods tend to be reasonably priced. However, you should consider packing some of the following:
Food you really can’t live without. Although as mentioned above, you can probably get it here. Don’t hesitate to ask before arriving if it is available and how much it costs.
Specific medicines that you may need. Most medicines are readily available here and in many cases cheaper than you may find them in Europe or North America, however if there is something very specific that you need, you may want to bring it.
Teachers with contact lenses have suggested bringing contact lenses from home.
Some of our female members of staff have recommended bringing tampons, as they are not available here.
It's also better to buy electronical devices in your home country, as they will be significantly more expensive in Indonesia.
Taxis can be easily found and are very inexpensive. Most trips around the city will range from IDR 15,000–100,000 (USD 1.00-7.00) around the center of the city. A trip from and to the airport, will set you back around IDR 200,000 (USD 15). Unless you take the bus to BLOK M and then the taxi to the apartment, which would be around half of the price. Either way, upon your arrival you'll be picked up by people from the school. The taxis run on a meter, so be sure that the taxi driver turns it on when your journey begins. Some taxi drivers may take a longer route, knowing there's a hesitating expat in his car. Turning on the GPS on your phone and cranking up the volume, will dissuade him from trying to fool you. There are a variety of companies, each having a different coloured car. Blue Bird is the most reputable company. Their light blue taxis are really everywhere. However, Blue Bird is also about 15% more expensive than other companies, such as Express (white) or Gamya (green). But for the most part, the taxis cost about the same, except for Silver Bird, which has very nice black cars with leather seats. Those taxis cost about double the price of normal taxis.
The last few years, Uber and GrabCar are on the rise. You can download their application to order a car to come pick you up. Especially for longer distances this is a reliable and cheaper option. However, the drivers will usually call you beforehand to pick you up, which may be a problem if you don't speak Bahasa Indonesia. So we only recommend this for more experienced expats.
You can also take a motorbike taxi called an Ojek. These do not have a meter and instead the price is negotiated based on the distance of the location. Be sure to negotiate the price first, not when you arrive at your location. The price can be slightly higher than a taxi, however in heavy traffic they can get you to your location more quickly. Go-Jek and GrabBike are the two most common companies.
Directing a taxi to get back home or to school
It’s always fun to explore a new city, but it’s also important to be able to find your way back home. More than likely, whether you are housed in The Wave or in Kuningan Place apartments, a taxi driver may not be familiar with those buildings. That being said, there are many good landmarks close by that most taxi drivers tend to know, including: Bakrie Tower, Epicentrum Mall, and Taman Rasuna Apartments. From these locations, you can see your apartment building and easily navigate home.
Buying a car
Some teachers and staff own cars, however, most don’t find this necessary. Japanese/Korean cars are reasonably priced and fuel is very inexpensive, but you may find that a car is not necessary for your purposes. As mentioned, taxis are very convenient and cheap, as is renting a car/driver for weekend trips.
Walking across a street
When crossing a busy road, it may seem impossible at times, however, it is easily done as long as you exercise some faith. When crossing a road, simply hold your arm out towards the traffic as if telling it to stop while walking. It will stop. Just keep your eyes open for random motorbikes. Drivers who have no intention of stopping will usually flash their lights, while in many other countries this means that drivers are giving way to you. You will find that Indonesian people can be very courteous and ceremonial, except in traffic.
Jakarta is a very safe city. None of our foreign teachers have reported having any problems with crime while living here. And you should feel much safer here, than in many North American or European cities. However, like in any city, be aware of your surroundings and belongings when getting around on foot, on public transport, or on the back of an ojek.
The apartments provided by the school are single apartments located very close to the school. We will provide a few “settling-in” food items to get you by until we can help you go shopping right after you arrive. The school will also put a survival pack of sheets, towels, plates, cups, utensils, pots and pans for your use as well.
Stoves use gas bottles that must be refilled when they run out. This can be easily done within your apartment building. Simply contact the front desk or engineering and they will deliver you a new bottle and install it. The cost is about Rp. 140,000 or about $10.
Every apartment is equipped with a washing machine.
Many people choose to have house help, which is very affordable and alleviates some of the household tasks that you may not particularly like doing, i.e. laundry, ironing, cleaning, cooking, etc. If you are interested, the school will be able to assist you in finding someone.
It is not advisable to drink tap water in Jakarta. Some people also choose to brush their teeth, make tea or coffee, and wash vegetables and fruits with bottled water as well. Large bottles of water, the type that go on a dispenser, are available in the shops located at the bottom of each apartment building and cost around IDR 17,000 or USD 1.30. The shop will deliver them to your apartment at your request.
The voltage in Indonesia is 220V and plugs are 2 round pins as shown below.
Each apartment is furnished with a television. Cable television is available and offers a variety of channels, including many Western channels (History Channel, HBO, Fox, Fox Sports, Discovery, CNN, BBC, Fox News, etc). It is often bundled together with home internet.
However, many teachers and staff purchase external modems, instead, that are topped up by adding credit to them. They are quite small and easy to carry around and can be linked to multiple devices.
Any large city can seem a bit overwhelming at first, and for many people it’s easiest to become familiar with their immediate neighbourhood first. Below is a description of malls, supermarkets, restaurants, cinemas and cafes in our immediate area. These are all within a 15-30 minute walk or a short taxi ride.
The area of Jakarta that the school and apartments is located in is called Kuningan or Menteng Atas. It is one of the most upscale areas of the city and has many expats from all corners of the world, which is evident when walking around the area, eating at neighbourhood restaurants or having a drink in a nearby café. It is also home to many middle-upper class Indonesians. It is a very family friendly area, making it a great location for the school. It is also one of the 'newer' areas of the city with many large-scale construction project currently in progress. Right across the school the highest building in the southern hemisphere will be erected measuring 530 m tall, the Pertamina Energy Tower. However, the project is currently 'on hold' due to the low oil prices.
Both apartment buildings used by the school have beautiful pools. The Kuningan Place apartment building includes a well equipped gym with a variety of equipment, however The Wave does not. If you would like to join a gym that has classes (pilates, zumba, spinning, etc), as well as outdoor space with tennis courts and a track, Elite Sports Club is within a 10 minute walk of the apartments. Nearby malls also have sports clubs as well.
There are many hospitals throughout Jakarta. Two of the closest hospitals include MMC hospital, which is behind Bakrie Tower (about 10 minutes away on foot and a few minutes drive) and Siloam Semanggi which is about a 10 minute drive. Although MMC is a nice hospital, overall, foreign staff report that they have gotten better service at Siloam Semanggi.
Most importantly, particularly when sick, remember that you are a part of a community. The Indonesian teachers and staff are more than happy to help offer advice about sickness and recommend where to be treated. Do not hesitate to ask for help, even in having someone escort you to the doctor’s office to help you get there and offer translation if needed.
Malls & Supermarkets
Throughout the day the temperature in Jakarta rises to about 32°C/90°F, so it is no surprise that public life in the city mostly happens indoors in large airconditioned malls. That said, Jakarta has some of the largest and most fancy malls in the world, many of them in close proximity of the school. The most reputable malls are Kota Kasablanca, Grand Indonesia, Lotte Shopping Avenue/Ciputra World, Pacific Place,...
Epicentrum is a relatively small mall, but the closest one from the school, at about a 5-10 minute walk. It includes coffee shops, several restaurants (Indonesian, Vietnamese, Mexican, Arab, Western, etc), a beautiful cinema, a bar, atm machines, reflexology, salons, a pharmacy and Farmers Market, the closest supermarket from the school.
Plaza Festival is also a short walk away, just a few minutes past Epicentrum. The majority of the mall is restaurants, particularly fast food, but it also has a photo shop, kareoke and some clothing shops.
Kota Kasablanka, known as Kokas to the locals, can be reached on foot in about 25-30 minutes or by taxi in about 5 (depending on traffic). It is a major mall, including restaurants from all corners of the world, endless international stores, designer shops, spas, a gym, home-furnishing stores, bakeries, cafés, Ace hardware, Carrefour, and a large cinema. It is so large that they call this a 'Shopping Town' for a good reason. It is also a very busy mall, with literally hundreds of cars trying to get in and out at the same time.
This is a great mall for eating as it has one of the most extensive selections of restaurants for all price ranges. Most restaurants are centralized in an area called The Food Society on levels GF and 1. However, on level 3 there is a large Indonesian food court as well.
Mal Ambasador is a less fancy mall on the same street as Kota Kasablanka. It can be reached by taxi in about 10 minutes and on foot in about 40 minutes. Mal Ambassador has EVERYTHING and at rock bottom prices, although the quality of the wares is often questionable. It is a maze of vendors selling clothes, dvds, electronics, books, household goods, food, etc. It also has a foreign exchange with a very good rate called Valuta Artemis. We would advise against buying computer cables here though, as one of the teachers had a cable explode and burn after one week of use. Always buy cables at the official service centers, even though they're 3 to 4 times more expensive.
Lotte Shopping Avenue (Ciputra World)
This mall is across the street from Mal Ambasador. It is a large mall with many designer shops and many restaurants including a very large food court. You will also find Ranch Market, together with KemChicks probably the highest-quality supermarket chain in town. It offers a wide range of imported and local goods. It also has local organic fruits and vegetables and a very nice butchery section. Be prepared to pay about 10% to 20% more than in other supermarkets though.
Grand Indonesia Mall
Grand Indonesia is generally known as the biggest and best mall in Indonesia. Tripadvisor places it at #1 of things to do in Jakarta. You'll have to come back a few times to see everything. It also has two great supermarkets (Ranch Market and Food Hall) offering many imported and local goods. It also has numerous restaurants and shops. It is about 15 minutes away by taxi and sits across the street from another huge mall called Plaza Indonesia.
At this point I’m sure that it is clear that Jakarta has an endless supply of malls. Pacific Place is one of the higher-end malls and about 20-25 minutes away by taxi. It also has a great supermarket for imported and local goods called Kem Chicks, locally known as the 'supermarket for expats'. If you haven’t found what you are looking for at a supermarket closer to your apartment, you’ll likely find it here.
Many restaurants can be contacted directly for ordering food, however, you can also use services that are linked to numerous restaurants in our area. One such company is called Food Panda. When going to the site, select Indonesia, then Jakarta, then for area select either Kuningan Setiabudi or Kuningan Menteng Atas. That will lead you to restaurants that service our area. Sometimes the delivery guy will also call to ask for directions and they often do not understand English. The best way to guide them to the apartment is to say the following: "Jalan di antara Taman Rasuna dan Menara Imperium, dekat ke Menara Multivision." which means "On the road in between Taman Rasuna and The Imperium Tower, close to the Multivision Tower."
Another great service to use is Go-Jek, a company of motorcycle taxis. You can order food using their application and a Go-Jek driver will then deliver it to the lobby of your apartment. The selection of restaurants on offer is almost endless. Besides food you can also order lots of other services from their app, such as: a massage, a parcel service, moving furniture, a haidresser, a cleaning service if you've made a bit of a mess in your apartment, ...
Vendors who cook and sell food on the side of the road , also known as 'kaki lima', can be found all throughout Jakarta. However, be aware that there are no regulated standards of hygiene. Since many of your Indonesian colleagues will go there to have lunch, you may be temped to try it out as well. But remember that you do no have the same tolerance to unhygienic food as locals who have been eating street food their whole life. If you want to contract typhoid fever, eating street food is probably a good place to start ;) So if you eat street food, do so at your own risk. Our school canteen offers tasty local dishes for about USD 2-3. If you are looking for other affordable options for local food, many malls have Indonesian food courts available.
Indonesia has endless travel opportunities. Below you will find some suggestions for short weekend trips. Many of our local and expat teachers will gladly join you on these trips.
Bogor is a city that is about an hour south of Kuningan, by car. However, on the weekends, it can take quite a bit longer, since it is the favourite getaway spot for many Jakartans. You can also go by train which is fairly simple, inexpensive, and of course not affected by traffic. Bogor is a fantastic location for being out in nature, visiting tea plantations, hiking, camping, dining in open air. It is also the location of Taman Safari, which is a popular spot for seeing animals both native and non-native to Indonesia. Additionally, Bogor has beautiful Botanical Gardens.
Bandung is Indonesia's third-largest city but lies close enough to Jakarta and offers cooler weather. It is located about 3 hours southeast of Jakarta by car or bus. Bandung features a large collection of Dutch Colonial architecture, as well as a beautiful botanical garden, zoo, golf courses and a wide variety of culinary offerings in often spectacular locations. Especially the area called Lembang is worth visiting as it is located in the mountains in the midst of idyllic streams and waterfalls. Make sure to visit places such as Dusun Bambu, Farmhouse Susu Lembang, Kampung Daun,... Bandang is also known for its many outlet stores, where you can buy quality clothing at very competitive prices. Rumah Mode is probably the best place to start. When visiting Bandung/Lembang it is advisable to either leave before 6 a.m. or to just book a hotel for a night.
The Thousand Islands are a chain of islands to the north of Jakarta's coast. It consists of a string of 128 islands stretching 45 km (28 mi) north into the Java Sea at West Jakarta Bay. Most of these are islands are inhabited and can be reached by boat in about 1-2 hours. The surrounding reefs are home to a wide variety of fishes, making it an ideal spot for diving, snorkelling, and fishing.
We hope that this guide has been informative and that most of your burning questions have been asnwered. Should you feel as if there's something missing in this guide, you can always contact us with your questions.
In the mean time, you can read a lot more about expat life in Indonesia on www.expat.co.id.